Learning to be Generous: A Four-Part Strategy


Does the amount of stuff we have interfere with our ability to be generous? Most people think they would be more generous if they had higher incomes. The logic seems solid; greater resources equals greater giving. Unfortunately, the IRS data proves that's simply not true.  Wealth doesn't translate to higher giving levels in terms of a percentage of income. In fact, the more you have, the less you give. So Michael Palin's observation, "the less you have, the more generous you are," has empirical support.

So what do you do? Do you sell everything and join a monastery? Do you take a vow of poverty and follow in Mother Teresa's footsteps? Most of us don't have the awesomeness to take that path.  Still, we shouldn't dismiss doing something just because we can't do everything.

The key is to create a plan to be generous in the same way we create a plan to retire or save for a vacation. My parents talk about their pastor whose family is working a plan to make sure when they die that very little will be left "ungiven."

The steps are simple, though not easy!

1. Decide, in advance, what percentage of  income to live on, save, and give away.

Do you live on a 100% of your income or 110%? What would life look like if you decided to live on 90% of your income, save 5% and give 5% away? If you're of Jewish or Christian faith, 10% is the "recommended" level, but don't let the double digit percentage throw you off. You can wade in from the shore if you're not ready to jump off the pier!

2. Get and stay out of debt so there's greater freedom to be generous.

Nothing stifles generosity like interest payments. A wise man once told me, "There are only two kinds of people in the world - those who pay interest and those who make interest."  Which do you want to be? I like the Dave Ramsey idea of "getting angry" if you're on the paying end of the equation.

3. Look for needs and do something (anything).

We try to be generous with money and time among assorted worthwhile organizations. As I've written before (here and here), our daughter has a heart for people who don't have access to clean water so we have jumped into her desire to help by partnering with Charity: Water. She can see a tangible impact of the money she gives and raises.

For kids, monetary donations make less of an impact than time, so when our small group goes out in the community to serve, we bring our kids along. We also involve the kids in donating their toys and clothes rather than using consignment shops.

4. Make generosity a family value.

Talk about your donation plans as a family. Make decisions according to what matters to each person. Celebrate the decision and make sharing a broader experience than just writing a check at the end of the year.

You'll be glad you did!